World Junior Team headed to Germany | SteamboatToday.com

World Junior Team headed to Germany

Tay­lor Fletcher

Nordic combined skier Tay­lor Fletcher may have been in search of top finishes at the World Cup the past few weeks, but that didn't mean he wasn't keeping a close eye on what was happening back home and who he would be skiing with at the Junior World Championships later this month.

"He kept in touch with me through Skype," coach Martin Bayer said. "He always wanted to know who had won, who was training well and who would be coming up to join the team."

Luckily for Fletcher, who scored the first World Cup points of his career with a 29th-place finish in Val di Fiemme, Italy, during the weekend, there will be lots of familiar faces on the Nordic combined team representing the United States at the end of this month.

Four of the five-member team competed at last year's events. Fletcher, Nick Hendrickson and Brett Denney qualified earlier this year based on Continental Cup finishes in Park City, Utah. Cliff Field and newcomer Michael Ward earned their invitations with top finishes at a qualifier in Lake Placid, N.Y., earlier this month.

Field won the first of the two qualifiers Dec. 31, and Ward was second. The next day, Ward won the final qualifier, which also was used to crown the North American Junior Champion, and Field was second. Ward moved to town from Aspen last winter to train with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.

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"I was psyched," Ward said about joining the veteran American team "I can't explain the feeling, but I was pretty excited when I got the news."

The 17-year-old is a junior at Steamboat Springs High School and will be making his first trip to the World Junior Championships, which are in Hinterzarten, Germany, from Jan. 24 to 31.

The veteran Field also is looking forward to the competition. Last year he was ill leading up to the events, which were held Feb. 5 to 8, 2009, in Strbske Pleso, Slovakia.

"I lost 10 pounds in a single week," Field said.

He said he's learned a thing or two since last year's event, including the importance of staying healthy before the events. Still, despite being hampered by illness, he thinks the experience of competing in Slovakia will pay off this time around.

"I would love to see us win a medal in the team event," Field said.

He said he also has high hopes for his teammates — Fletcher and Hendrickson — to bring home a medal.

"I'm jumping really well right now, but I'm not sure that I'm up there with those guys," Field said. "If I can jump well and come away with a top-10 finish, that would be nice."

Bayer will coach the team for the third-straight year and said he has been working with most of this group for several years. He has high hopes.

"It's really exciting because this group has a real chance to reach the podium," Bayer said. "I'm looking forward to the trip, and I think we have five really strong guys."